Despite its outward appearance as a Hearthstone-clone and the painfully bland name, over the past year KARDS the free-to-play WWII-themed digital card game has asserted itself as perhaps the most interesting new take on the ‘digital CCG’ model. With its addictive tug-of-war-style play, historically inspired mechanics, and excellent period-propaganda and original art, KARDS fills an interesting and previously unfulfilled market niche for players who are both wargamers and CCG fans.
With the release of its newest expansion, Breakthrough, the team at 1939 Games continues to build on the excellent foundation they’ve created since the game’s official release earlier this year.
Breakthrough marks the game’s third content expansion. The first, Allegiance, was released last winter while the game was still in Early Access and added France and Italy as ally nations alongside a bunch of new cards. The second, Theaters of War, added fewer new cards but delivered a set of well-constructed single-player campaigns for each of the five major factions.
The new Breakthrough expansion, like the previous content updates, adds some new cards to the roster with 81 new additions spread out over the 7 factions as well as some nifty cosmetic updates that add a few additional animations, emotes, card-backs, and player mats. Most importantly, it introduces some intriguing and much-needed new mechanics that seem likely to add a ton of depth to play.
One of the strengths of KARDS is the way it manages to capture each faction’s essence in a way that feels historically faithful, even while using a simple set of abilities. The game is built on a fairly simple premise: both sides fight over control of the middle of the board the “front line” in order to attack and destroy the enemy HQ. Each type of unit, from infantry to tanks to bombers, acts in a slightly different way.
This new expansion builds on that idea by introducing several new mechanics that try to abstract some facet of the war that has been previously overlooked.
The most well-advertised, and most promising, is the new ‘pincer’ mechanic. Units with the Pincer ability have a buff that they also give to another unit on the battlefield when they are deployed. The buff remains active as long as both units are in play, setting up the possibility of some really creative, and devastatingly powerful, combos.
It’s intended to be an abstraction of the double envelopment tactics that made the German blitzkrieg so infamous, and it’s easy to see how this ability will be particularly useful for the fast, aggressive playstyles of Germany and Japan. Another new mechanic likely to shake things up is the ability to “take control” of enemy units for a single turn. Designed to represent the idea of wartime confusion and friendly fire, this seems like it has the potential to be extremely useful in combination with existing cards or as a Hail Mary to turn the tide with a double knock-out.
As far as abstractions go, this is on the more far-fetched side and it’s not hard to imagine how cards with this ability could walk a thin line between lifesaving and out-right cheesy. Only time will tell where the community ends up falling. Breakthrough also adds innovative new ‘research’ cards inspired by historical initiatives like the Manhattan project and German rocket research which give nations the ability to invest time and resources in new technology.
Each research card presents the player with two options: either immediately get a card representing some new war-time technology or receive a higher-level research card with a greater cost, but a better reward.
This gives the player the ability to invest ‘Kredits’ (the game’s action points) in more powerful tech in a way that is supposed to represent the real-life trade-off nations had to make during the war balancing investing in potentially war-winning technologies with doubling down on what you need in the moment.
The United States, Great Britain, and Germany all have their own research trees, each with their own rewards, while the Soviet Union has a ‘Spy Ring’ card that lets you add one of the other faction’s research cards to your hand.
Even besides these new mechanics, Breakthrough adds a bunch of new cards that seem like they could potentially open up a bit more diversity of play for some faction combinations that had been overlooked in the past.
Last month, the game added a new pack type as well the ‘Officer Pack’ that cost a few more coins to purchase but are guaranteed to contain cards of a certain rarity. This seeks to resolve one of the most common complaints about CCG games in general and KARDS specifically: the need to grind to acquire some of the very rare cards.
Overall, it’s good to see KARDS getting some new content, cosmetic features, and mechanics, especially those that seem thematic and appropriate for the game. As of right now, the Breakthrough expansion cements KARDS as easily one of the most enjoyable digital CCGs available right now. It’s also a game that is fairly generous with handing out its in-game currency, especially for new players, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence waiting for a time to try it, now is as good a time as any.